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Gressett v. Contra Costa County

United States District Court, N.D. California

March 10, 2015

MICHAEL GRESSETT, Plaintiff,
v.
CONTRA COSTA COUNTY, et al., Defendants.

ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (Docket No. 203)

EDWARD M. CHEN, District Judge.

Plaintiff Michael Gressett initiated this lawsuit - now primarily one for malicious prosecution - against multiple government entities, government employees, and private individuals. After the Court ruled on several rounds of motions to dismiss, and after Mr. Gressett settled with some of the defendants, the defendants remaining in the case are all affiliated with Contra Costa County ("County"). The remaining defendants (collectively, "Defendants") are as follows:

(1) The County;

(2) Robert Kochly (during the relevant period, the County District Attorney ("DA"));

(3) Brian Baker (during the relevant period, Mr. Kochly's Chief Deputy DA, the "Number 2" position in the DA's Office);

(4) Paul Sequeira (during the relevant period, Mr. Kochly's Assistant Chief Deputy DA, the "Number 3" position in the DA's Office);

(5) Gene Greenwald (during the relevant period, the Chief of Inspectors at the DA's Office);

(6) Daryl Jackson (during the relevant period, an investigator at the DA's Office); and

(7) Paul Mulligan (during the relevant period, an investigator at the DA's Office who reported to Mr. Jackson).

Currently pending before the Court is Defendants' motion for summary judgment or, in the alternative, for partial summary judgment. Having considered the parties' briefs and accompanying submissions, as well as all evidence of record, the Court hereby GRANTS Defendants' motion.

I. FACTUAL & PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Mr. Gressett is a County Deputy District Attorney ("DA"). See Gressett Decl. ¶ 1. In 1994 and 1998, he ran unsuccessfully for County DA against Gary Yancey. Mr. Kochly was Mr. Yancey's Chief Deputy during that time. See Gressett Decl. ¶ 2.

In 2002, Mr. Gressett ran for the DA position again, this time against Mr. Kochly. Mr. Gressett was unsuccessful once again. See Gressett Decl. ¶ 3-4. Mr. Kochly continued to be the DA during the period relevant to this lawsuit.

On or about March 8, 2008, the alleged rape of Ms. Doe occurred. See Boley Decl., Ex. H at 2 (felony complaint); Sylvia Decl., Ex. C at M17 (police report).

On March 12, 2008, Ms. Doe talked to a private attorney, Thomas McKenna, about the alleged rape. See Sylvia Decl., Ex. C at M20 (police report). Mr. McKenna was at the time in a partnership with Daniel O'Malley. Mr. O'Malley eventually ran against Mark Peterson, a friend of Mr. Gressett, for the DA position in 2010.

On or about the same day that Ms. Doe alerted him, Mr. McKenna contacted Mr. Sequeira, the "Number 3" position in the DA's Office, about the alleged rape. See Sylvia Decl., Ex. C at M21 (police report). Mr. Sequeira was Ms. Doe's immediate supervisor. See Boley Decl., Ex. P at 118 (Kochly deposition). Shortly thereafter, Mr. Kochly (the DA) was told about the alleged rape. See Boley Decl., Ex. P at 271 (Kochly deposition).

On or about March 19, 2008, Ms. Doe met with Mr. McKenna and Mr. Sequeira. According to Defendants, details of the alleged rape were not discussed; rather, the discussion focused on what would happen if Ms. Doe came forward with an administrative (not criminal) complaint against Mr. Gressett. See, e.g., Boley Decl., Ex. N at 705-06 (testimony of Mr. Sequeira during grand jury proceeding).

Around this same time, Mr. Kochly contacted an attorney, Marty Mayer, to get his "informal thoughts" about the situation. Boley Decl., Ex. P at 212 (Kochly deposition).

Subsequently, nothing material seems to have happened for several months.

After several months, in July 2008, Mr. Kochly contacted Mr. Meyer again and this time asked for an opinion letter as to what the obligations of the DA's Office were. See Boley Decl., Ex. P at 292 (Kochly deposition).

On August 12, 2008, Mr. Mayer provided the opinion letter to Mr. Kochly. See Boley Decl., Ex. Z (letter). In the letter, Mr. Mayer opined, inter alia, that an investigation into the alleged rape was required pursuant to both Title VII and FEHA. Mr. Mayer advised that an appropriate investigator be retained and an investigation be initiated as quickly as possible. Mr. Mayer added, however, that there was "no legal duty imposed upon the employer... to report this matter to the local police." Boley Decl., Ex. Z at 5 (letter).[1]

In or about September 2008, Ms. Doe agreed to be interviewed about the alleged rape. The interview took place on September 26, 2008. See Sylvia Decl., Ex. C at M15 (police report). Persons present at the interview were Jon Sylvia of the Martinez Police Department ("MPD"); Bob Conner and Cynthia Hall, investigators with the Alameda County DA's Office; and Mr. McKenna. See Flores Decl., Ex. A at A11 (statement of probable cause by Mr. Sylvia).

After conducting some additional investigation ( e.g., interviewing Ms. Doe's sister and friend, both of whom spoke with Ms. Doe shortly after the alleged rape), Mr. Sylvia obtained search and arrest warrants from a state court judge in early October 2008. See Sylvia Decl., Ex. C at M25 (police report); Flores Decl., Ex. A at A5, A8 (search and arrest warrants). Mr. Gressett was arrested on October 2, 2008.

At or about the same time, the DA's Office contacted the Attorney General's ("AG") Office, asking it to take over the investigation and - if appropriate - the prosecution of Mr. Gressett. See Flores Decl. ¶ 3. Peter Flores, a Deputy AG, was assigned to be the lead attorney in the case. See Flores Decl. ¶ 7. The AG's investigation was conducted under the terms of a County investigative protocol that has been in place for nearly 25 years. The protocol

governs joint criminal investigations of specified categories of incidents which involve conduct by law enforcement agency employees or operations and activities of law enforcement agencies. That investigative Protocol provides for involvement by the law enforcement agency in whose jurisdiction the crime occurred (in this case, the Martinez Police Department [MPD]), the agency employing the suspect (the Contra Costa County District Attorney's Office), and the prosecuting agency (the California Attorney General's Office).

Flores Decl. ¶ 6.

Ultimately, the AG's Office used some of the investigators from the County DA's Office for the investigation of Mr. Gressett; this included Mr. Jackson and Mr. Mulligan. See, e.g., Flores Decl. ¶ 10. The AG's Office also used one of its own investigators, Imelda Ramirez-Doty, for the investigation. See Flores Decl. ¶ 10. Mr. Sequeira (Assistant Chief Deputy DA) participated in some of the witness interviews that were conducted ( e.g., interviews of Deputy DAs). It is not clear whether Mr. Sequeira was participating as part of the administrative investigation by the County, the criminal investigation by the AG, or both.

Many witness interviews took place after Mr. Gressett was arrested, including a second interview of Ms. Doe in early November 2008. See Flores Decl. ¶ 18. Notably, a number of third-party witnesses provided testimony that was helpful to Mr. Gressett. See generally Flores Decl., Ex. B (probable cause statement by Ms. Ramirez-Doty). For example, Amber Barrick, a former girlfriend of Mr. Gressett, testified that she and Mr. Gressett always had consensual sex. See Flores Decl., Ex. B at A475 (probable cause statement by Ms. Ramirez-Doty). Many Deputy DAs stated that Mr. Gressett was credible and/or indicated Ms. Doe was not or might not be. See, e.g., Flores Decl., Ex. B at A476-80 (probable cause statement by Ms. Ramirez-Doty). Another Deputy DA, Courtenay Bravmann (now Patterson) stated that she was told by another Deputy DA (Melissa Smith) that was Ms. Doe was abducted and raped by a stranger. See Boley Decl., Ex. FF at 2 (interview of Ms. Bravmann in October 2008).

Subsequently, on November 21, 2008, Mr. Gressett was charged with a twelve-count felony complaint. See Boley Decl., Ex. H (felony complaint).

In April 2009, Ms. Doe filed a complaint against the County with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing ("DFEH"), asserting that the County had delayed in acting on her claim of sexual assault by Mr. Gressett and that, by not hiring her, the County had retaliated against her for making the claim. See Walker Decl., Ex. G (Exhibit 3 to Kochly deposition) (DFEH complaint).

In July 2009, Mr. Gressett was terminated from his position as a Deputy DA. See TAC ¶ 86.

In September 2009, a mediation took place with respect to Ms. Doe's claim against the County. See Walker Decl., Ex. A at 152 (deposition of Mr. Baker).

On October 5, 2009, grand jury proceedings against Mr. Gressett began. See Boley Decl., Ex. K at 37 (state court order).

On October 6, 2009, the County Board of Supervisors, in a closed session, approved of a settlement ($450, 000) with Ms. Doe. See Walker Decl., Ex. G (Exhibit 4 to Kochly deposition) (closed session order).

During grand jury proceedings that took place thereafter, the grand jury was not informed of either Ms. Doe's claim against the County or the settlement. On October 19, 2009, the grand jury indictment issued. See Boley Decl., Ex. K at 37 (state court order). The AG's Office did not learn about either Ms. Doe's claim or the settlement until several months after the grand jury proceedings had concluded. See Flores Decl. ¶ 31.

In January 2011, Mr. Gressett moved to dismiss the indictment. See Boley Decl., Ex. J (motion).

In February 2011, Mr. Gressett was reinstated to his job pursuant to a decision by an arbitrator. See Walker Decl., Ex. X (arbitration award).

On October 19, 2011, the state court granted Mr. Gressett's motion to dismiss the indictment. See Boley Decl., Ex. K (state court order). The state court acknowledged that "there was sufficient probable cause to indict." Boley Decl., Ex. K at 17 (state court order). Indeed, it indicated that Ms. Doe's testimony in and of itself "provided compelling evidence sufficient to support a finding of probable cause." Boley Decl., Ex. K at 44 (state court order). However, the state court went on to conclude that Mr. Gressett's due process rights under the California Constitution had been violated - thus warranting dismissal of the indictment - because (1) certain inadmissible evidence had been offered for the grand jury's consideration ( e.g., Mr. McKenna's opinion that Ms. Doe was credible beyond a reasonable doubt and evidence of Mr. Gressett's "bad character") and (2) the grand jury had not been told about (a) Ms. Doe's DFEH claim against and settlement with the County and (b) Ms. Doe's alleged statement that she had been raped by strangers. See Boley Decl., Ex. K at 17-18 (state court order); see also Boley Decl., Ex. K at 3 (state court order).

Thus, according to the state court:

even though there was sufficient probable cause to indict the defendant, because of the extent and nature of inadmissible evidence introduced to the grand jury, coupled with the prosecutor's failure to advise of its limited admissibility, when combined with the prosecutor's failure to disclose to the grand jury Ms. Doe's claim and settlement along with her alleged statement that she was raped by strangers was such that these cumulative errors violated defendant's right to due process under the State ...

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